Even though our visit didn’t coincide with the big day, we didn’t feel that we could pass through Pennsylvania without a stop at the town that decides our frozen fate every February.
Are they crazy about groundhogs in Punxsutawney? You betcha. The place is (wood) chucked full of them.
Not counting groundhogs (real, wooden, fiberglass, bronze, or welded metal) the town of Punxsutawney has a population of a bit above 6,700.
Legend has it that the town got its odd name from a defeated Native American sorcerer who was killed in combat. The ashes of his burnt body turned to sand fleas or Ponksad and through these lovely fleas he continued his harassment of man. Ponksad-uteney means The town of the Sand fleas.
We saw neither flea nor sorcerer on this trip, so we?re assuming the town has rid itself of these pests. Or maybe we were just lucky that the vermin weren’t out and about in December.
Like a lot of folks, we learned about Punxsutawney from the movie Groundhog Day, which celebrates the town’s annual tradition of yanking a large rodent out of a stump to predict the weather.
This occurs every February 2nd, right smack between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, in a tradition that dates back to the ancient European holiday of Candlemas.
Even though both holidays include springtime predictions, the Europeans never seemed to discover camping out, tailgating, or the shadows of furry prognosticators.
All they did was look up to see if it was sunny or cloudy and predict then, as now, sunshine meant six more weeks of winter.
Back in Pennsylvania, the first whistle pig was held high above the now famous Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney in 1887. It’s doubtful anyone at the time expected this humble hill to become the epicenter of seasonal forecasting.
Now the sole keepers of those long-held secret weather rituals are a handful of top hat bedecked Inner Circle members of the Groundhog Society.
Should a person be so lucky as to be ensconced among the elite few of the Inner Circle, an aisle at the local supermarket will bear his name — a high honor indeed.
Strolling through the Tree Circle in the town square to see the beautifully lit trees decorated by local schools and community groups. Hand in hand, we wondered in the crisp, winter air when suddenly a sharp screech broke the silent night.
We spun around just in time to see a jolly family of chucks dashing back into their hole on the top of the tree-clock-glockenspiel in front of the Fraternal Order of Eagles lodge across the street.
Venturing out to see the rest of the town by the light of a grey winter day, our first stop was the town library where the famous woodchuck himself resides.
Punxsutawney Phil, and his wife Phyllis, spend everyday but The Big One in their climate controlled den. The hutch can be viewed from either outside or inside of the library. Our viewing was a tad anticlimactic, since the stars of the show seem to do a lot of sleeping.
Our next stop was The Wizard?s Workshop and it turned out to be a must-see. The proprietor, Randy “The Wizard” Rupert, is an ice sculpting champion and now uses the same chainsaw technique on various sized parts of trees.
With our usual snarky attitude, we entered past the sign that read What wood you like for Christmas? and Come see what I saw — expecting a hoot, but instead walked into a true master’s den.
Oh, the joys we found there. Randy, the only true link we found to the movie in the entire town, was the guy who taught Bill Murray how to pretend ice sculpt.
The angelic ice carving in the movie is his, ditto the electric chainsaw Bill used for the movie. The saw is prominently displayed in the store along with a VCR tape and poster of the celebrated flick.
The most charming aspect of the workshop is Randy himself, who jawed with us for quite sometime about his art, the movie, and the quirks of Punxsutawney.
Off the beaten path was a slightly disturbing groundhog and we did quite a bit of blinking as we stood next to it — trying to chase out the image that was forming in our heads.
“Phil Your Dreams with Butterfly Wings” outside the hospital is meant to represent new life emerging from a cocoon, but from most angles, it sure seems to represent something else entirely. If you bring your grandkids, it might give you a good chance to explain just where new life really comes from.
Putting that image out of our minds, we knew we couldn’t leave without a visit to the famous Gobbler’s Knob. It’s easy to find, just follow the whistle pig prints up Woodland Avenue to the center of the weather forecasting world.
The Knob is festooned with signs and art dedicated to the most famous seer of them all, Punxsutawney Phil, including the greeting Can you believe it, we’re at Gobblers Knob.
Believe it or not, we could.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com